Far-left politics

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Far-left or extreme-left politics are terms used to describe political positions farther to the left on the political spectrum than the standard political left.

Definitions and characteristics[edit]

French posters of support to the Tunisian Revolution (and feminism below).


Dr. Luke March of the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh defines the "far left" in Europe as those who place themselves to the left of social democracy, which they see as insufficiently left-wing. The two main sub-types are called the "radical left", due to their desire for fundamental change to the capitalist system while accepting of democracy, and the "extreme left" who are more hostile to liberal democracy and denounce any compromise with capitalism. March specifies four major subgroups within contemporary European far-left politics: communists, democratic socialists, populist socialists and social populists.[1]

Vít Hloušek and Lubomír Kopeček add secondary characteristics to those identified by March and Mudde, such as anti-Americanism, anti-globalization, opposition to NATO and rejection of European integration.[2]

In France, the term extrême-gauche ("far left") is a generally accepted term for political groups that position themselves to the left of the Socialist Party, such as Trotskyists, Maoists, anarcho-communists and New Leftists. Some, as political scientist of marxist background Serge Cosseron, will limit the scope to the left of the French Communist Party[3], but there is no real consensus. Many leftists with strong anti-Americanism, anti-globalization, opposition to NATO and rejection of European integration try to avoid the negative and reductive impression associated with the "far left" categorization by using the parable la gauche de la gauche ("the left of the left"), reflecting what some might view as a cultural ambiguity.

In Germany, Eckhard Jesse, a political scientist, regards different kinds of Trotskyists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-communists, national communists, authoritarian socialists, Maoists and autonomists as the local "far left".[citation needed] These people include both authoritarians and libertarians.[citation needed]

United States[edit]

Herbert McClosky and Dennis Chong further claim that in the United States, the far-left groups studied are deeply estranged from American society and highly critical of what they perceive as the spiritual and moral degeneration of American institutions; they view American society as dominated by conspiratorial forces working to defeat their ideological aims.[4]

McClosky and Chong surveyed a number of militant, revolutionary far-left groups in the US and they argue that, like far-right extremists, they tend to show traits of authoritarianism.[4]


The term ultra-leftism has two overlapping uses. One usage is a generally pejorative term for certain types of positions on the far left that are extreme or intransigent. The term is also used—pejoratively or not—to refer to a particular current of Marxist communism, which is closely related to council communism and left communism.

Ultra-left currents within left communism are often subject to criticisms from other factions of the left. The left communist organization International Communist Current refuses to work with leftist groups except for other left communists or anarchists. Gilles Dauvé (also known as Jean Barrot), a left communist theorist, argues that all bourgeois regimes should be opposed and that revolutionaries should not defend liberal democracy against fascism.

The term ultra left is rarely used in English. Instead, people tend to speak broadly of left communism as a variant of traditional Marxism. The French equivalent, ultra-gauche, has a stronger meaning, as it is a more positive term in that language and is used to define a movement that still exists today: a branch of left communism developed by theorists such as Amadeo Bordiga, Otto Rühle, Anton Pannekoek, Herman Gorter and Paul Mattick, and continuing with more recent writers, such as Jacques Camatte and Gilles Dauvé.

A "Revolutionary 1st May Demonstration" by far-left groups in Berlin

The term originated in the 1920s in the German and Dutch workers movements, originally referring to a Marxist group opposed to both Bolshevism and social democracy, and with some affinities with anarchism. The ultra-left is defined particularly by its breed of anti-authoritarian Marxism, which generally involves an opposition to the state and to state socialism, as well as to parliamentary democracy and wage labour. In opposition to Bolshevism, the ultra left generally places heavy emphasis upon the autonomy and self-organisation of the proletariat.

Used pejoratively, ultra-left generally criticizes positions that are adopted without taking notice of the current situation or of the consequences which would result from following a proposed course. The term is used to criticize leftist positions that, for example, overstate the tempo of events, propose initiatives that overestimate the current level of militancy, or which employ a highly militant tone in their propaganda.

The mainstream Marxist critique of such a position began with Vladimir Lenin's Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, which attacked those (such as Anton Pannekoek or Sylvia Pankhurst) in the nascent Communist International, who refused to work with parliamentary or reformist socialists. Trotskyists and others see the Communist International's Third Period—when it described social democratic parties as "social fascist" and therefore essentially the same as Adolf Hitler's Nazis—as a strategy of ultra-leftism. The term has been popularised in the United States by the Socialist Workers' Party, who have used the term to both describe opponents in the anti-war movement[5][page needed] including Gerry Healy. Ultra-leftism is often associated with leftist sectarianism, in which a socialist organisation might attempt to put its own short-term interests before the long-term interests of the working class and its allies.[citation needed]

Far-Left terrorism[edit]

Aftermath of the bombing on American Ramstein Air Base in 1981 by left-wing terrorist group RAF

A number of far-left parties gave birth to militant organisations during the 1960s and 1970s,[6] such as the Red Brigades and the Red Army Faction.[7] These groups generally aimed to overthrow capitalist systems and replace them with socialist societies.

Political parties[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ March, Luke (2008). Contemporary Far Left Parties in Europe: From Marxism to the Mainstream? (PDF). Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. p. 3. ISBN 9783868720006. Retrieved 3 June 2017. 
  2. ^ Hloušek, Vít; Kopeček, Lubomír (2010). Origin, Ideology and Transformation of Political Parties: East-Central and Western Europe Compared. Farnham: Ashgate. p. 46. ISBN 9780754678403. 
  3. ^ Cosseron, Serge (2007). Dictionnaire de l'extrême gauche. Paris: Larousse. p. 20. ISBN 2035826209. 
  4. ^ a b McClosky, Herbert; Chong, Dennis (27 January 2009). "Similarities and Differences Between Left-Wing and Right-Wing Radicals". British Journal of Political Science. 15 (03): 329–363. doi:10.1017/s0007123400004221. 
  5. ^ Hansen, Joseph. Marxism vs. Ultraleftism: The Record of Healy's Break with Trotskyism. ISBN 0873486897. Retrieved 15 November 2016. 
  6. ^ Weinberg, Leonard; Pedahzur, Ami; Perliger, Arie (2009). Political Parties and Terrorist Groups (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. p. 53. ISBN 9781135973377. 
  7. ^ Chaliand, Gérard (2010). The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al Qaeda. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520247093. 

External links[edit]